Giant Pandas are proof that captive breeding is key to survival

Numbers have shown that keeping pandas in captivity is key to their overall survival.
Captive breeding efforts, like the Toronto Zoo’s, are instrumental in the survival of endangered animals.

Sightings of the mythical Bigfoot and Loch Ness monster have been a source of mystery and wonder for years. With thousands of new species discovered each year, it isn’t irrational to believe such species could exist in the depths of oceans or jungles. At one point in time, the elusive giant panda was considered the Bigfoot of China. The beast was so well-hidden in the dense bamboo forests of China that Chinese trackers spent over 60 years trying to find the legendary creature. The trackers had their doubts about the fabled animal. After all, the notion of a chubby black and white spotted bear that lazes around the forest eating a mostly herbivorous diet seemed insane at the time.

The giant panda’s rarity was likely influenced by the species’ decreasing population. Giant pandas are currently classified as an endangered species. The species has been poached for decades for its soft fur, and its continued habitat loss and low birthrate has allowed the great panda’s numbers to dwindle.

Rapid expansion in China has caused the natural habitat of the giant panda to disappear almost entirely, forcing the pandas to travel into the mountains for refuge. Although many animal activists insist that keeping pandas behind bars is cruel, in order to avoid having to explain to our children what pandas were, the habitat of pandas must be allowed time to heal and regrow. The Toronto Zoo is one of many organizations that support the habitat reproduction for pandas.

Very recently, the Toronto Zoo acquired the first giant pandas to venture to Canada, Er Shun and Da Mao. The duo arrived from China in 2013 and will live at the Toronto Zoo until 2018. Staff from Toronto Zoo tweeted that Er Shun had given birth to two healthy cubs on October 13, 2015. An extremely advanced care unit equipped with incubators had been set up at the zoo in anticipation of the births.

The Toronto Zoo employs a reproductive physiologist working with pandas to help promote fertility and increase birth rates. News of the panda cubs was met by roars of excitement from both the zoo staff and the bears. This is a truly astounding achievement, as female pandas are only receptive to males for a maximum of 72 hours per year.

Without pandas kept in captivity, the species may not have made the recovery it has. In 2003, 164 giant pandas were reported to be in captivity. In 2013, the number of captive pandas more than doubled with a population of 375. About 1864 pandas were reported to be living in the wild in 2013, which is an increase of 268 since 2003, and a staggering increase of 864 since 1995. The reason for the rising population is simple: people care. People want to see pandas in the future, and so the world has made an effort to rebuild their homes.

A research team at the zoo will be conducting research to aid reproductive studies during their time with Er Shun and Da Mao until the two pack their bags and continue their world tour at the Calgary Zoo in 2018. It is currently unknown where the cubs will go, but it is very likely they will stay with their parents.

It is becoming less likely that we will have to say goodbye to pandas forever due to hard work on a global scale. However, it is not impossible. It is important that organizations like the Toronto Zoo continue their efforts to protect this beloved animal, and for people to realize destroying an animal’s environment will eventually destroy the animal. After all, extinction is a very long time.